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Non-consensual Sex Exemption (Tax Credits)

Volume 623: debated on Monday 20 March 2017

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

I rise to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration: the introduction of the non-consensual sex exemption in respect of tax credits, which I will henceforth refer to as the rape clause.

Since the two-child limitation of tax credits and universal credit was proposed in the summer 2015 Budget, I have pursued this matter relentlessly. I have used every means available to me through questions and debates, raising the matter in this House on no fewer than 25 occasions. The Government should by now have had adequate time to refine or, as I would prefer, to abandon that deeply flawed policy, but they have left deeply worrying gaps that will leave vulnerable women exposed, which is why I am calling for the debate.

The Government have sought to reassure me many times that women making a claim under the rape clause will be treated sensitively, and that they will be able to go through third-party professionals such as nurses, doctors and social workers, rather than frontline staff of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or the Department for Work and Pensions, but answers to written parliamentary questions I tabled exposed that there has been no training—none—in domestic violence or in the application of the policy to the 660,000 third-party professionals, with the policy due to come into force very soon, on 6 April. That puts vulnerable women seeking to make a claim in the position of having to present themselves to a GP, nurse or social worker to reveal that their third child was conceived as the result of rape, for that professional to determine, without having had domestic violence training or knowledge of the policy, if the circumstances are consistent with their having been raped. What kind of response can such women expect?

The Government are still saying today that they will issue guidance. When? I remind the House that the policy goes live on 6 April, in the middle of the recess. How will we parliamentarians know if the Government have done what they say they will do? Information has been shared with me by a member of staff at HMRC, who wishes to remain anonymous, that the sensitive unit, which will deal with rape clause claims, will not go live until 6 April. Until then, HMRC staff are left crossing their fingers that they do not get inquiries from the public about a sensitive issue in which they have not been trained. That is utterly unacceptable.

The Government have been dodging scrutiny on this issue from the start, burying it at the back of the 2015 Budget, being forced to carry out a consultation they did not want to have, sneaking out the response to that consultation during Trump’s inauguration, and laying Statutory Instrument 2017 No. 387 last week under the negative procedure, to avoid debate in this House. I feel compelled to appeal to you, Mr Speaker, to grant this emergency debate. Women who have faced the worst trauma of their lives—being raped and becoming pregnant as a result of that most serious and dangerous of sexual assaults—are being forced to relive that trauma just to claim tax credits. That is a gross and despicable invasion of privacy. I believe that we owe it to these women and their children to hold this Government to account.

The hon. Lady asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely, “The introduction of the non-consensual sex exemption in respect of tax credits.” I have listened carefully to the application from the hon. Lady, but I am afraid that I am not persuaded that the matter is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. The Standing Order does not permit me to give my reasons to the House. I shall therefore simply observe that a prayer has been tabled against the regulations, and I hope and anticipate that the usual channels will find time for it to be debated.